O2's chief marketing officer on its digital plans for English Rugby sponsorship extension

O2's extension of its relationship with English Rugby will take on a new digital focus for mobile experiences

O2’s decision to renew ties with the Rugby Football Union (RFU) marks a new chapter in the longstanding relationship, one which will move beyond brand awareness and capitalise on the evolving nature of sports marketing with digital experiences across mobile.

The five-season extension of the sponsorship will see O2’s branding continue to feature on the kits of the England Senior men’s team, England Women and England Saxons teams until 2021 and secures the company as the exclusive telecommunications and wifi provider to England Rugby.

While branding across RFU properties will serves as the basis of the sponsorship, O2’s 21-year tie-up has seen the it become synonymous with English Rugby and now it’s looking to build a deeper relationship with rugby fans.

“When we first partnered up years ago it was about raising awareness of the brand but we’ve moved beyond that so we’re now looking to shape new experiences for our customers and engage with them through those experience,” said Nina Bibby, chief marketing officer at O2.

Specifically, the partnership will focus on creating more integrated, connected and personalised experiences across mobile devices for rugby fans. While the specifics of this strategy are still being drawn up, Bibby teased that they will revolve around the live experience.

O2’s Priority offering will play a central role in this going forward. The customer portal offers O2 users a plethora of benefits and discounts including early bird tickets to England rugby games and gigs at O2 Academy venues.

By monitoring the loyalty scheme, O2 has noticed that more of its users have become interested in rugby, particularly following the World Cup which was hosted in England. With this is mind it can press forward with the sponsorship confident that it is offering its users experiences central to their interests.

“We saw a big jump after the world cup last year which tells us more of our customer base are becoming active fans,” says Bibby.

“We know customers love live experiences we offer them with rugby and concerts so now we’re focusing on how digital can enhance those experiences before, during and after [events]. That’s really what we want to try and do more of, that whole end-to-end experience from live to digital and back.”

Mobile devices will serve as the means for achieving this that could see it explore live streaming options and VR experiences, according to Bibby.

That’s not to say that previous successful parts of the sponsorship will be forgotten, specifically the ‘Wear the Rose’ campaign which proved a big hit during the Rugby World Cup.

“We will continue with it [the campaign] and I think it will be even more central to what we do and how we encourage people to get behind the team and really show their support,” says Bibby.

While the campaign proved more successful and enduring than England’s World Cup exploits, the decision to continue the partnership was never called into question following poor performances on the pitch, claimed the business.

“Sport is all about ups and downs and we’ve stood beside this team for 21 years so we’ve seen those ups and downs. It’s that commitment and heritage that made it really easy decision to keep working with them.”

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